I am a candidate in the Chapter seat selection process for the Wikimedia Board of Trustees. This is akin to an election, but it’s a closed process that works as follows. The community and chapters were invited to nominate candidates they thought should be on the Board (people could also nominate themselves). Then the the board members of the 28 Wikimedia Chapters (independent organizations, supporting the Wikimedia mission in their respective geographical areas) will select two candidates to serve on the Wikimedia Foundation’s Board of Trustees.

The WMF Board’s role is to provide guidance and long-term vision for the Wikimedia Foundation, which is the non-profit organization based in San Francisco whose servers host the (largely independent) 10 Wikimedia projects: Wikipedia, Wiktionary, etc. The Foundation has a range of administrative duties that are intimately related to running these servers, including raising money, addressing legal threats, maintaining technical scalability and development, and answering press inquiries; they also work on a range of other activities designed to support the mission of Wikimedia, including usability, outreach, and editor support. These activities are done by a small (currently less than 40) paid staff, which is managed by an executive director; these activities are also done by a vast and mind-boggingly enthusiastic, opinionated, diverse, scattered group of volunteers: people who, along with the folks who actually write Wikipedia articles, make up what we refer to internally as the Wikimedia Community. It is the Board of Trustees’ role to make sure Wikimedia activities are in line with our overall mission: “to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally”, and to think about the future.

If this sounds complicated, it’s because it is. Considering the complexity of the projects, number of people involved, and the grandness of our mission is enough to give anyone a headache. It’s also difficult because of the sheer amount of stuff we could do, might do, and might want to do. What’s next? I spend a great deal of time thinking about this, and thinking about the overall enterprise of Wikimedia (what some have been calling the Wikimedia Movement lately); and that is why I agreed to stand as a candidate in this process. I have nothing but respect for the current board members and the current occupants of the chapter seats; from what I can tell (and I know them all personally) they’ve done a good job. I am putting myself forward for consideration, but that doesn’t imply disapproval.

I can bring two things to the Board: a community perspective and a librarian’s perspective. There are five Board seats up for election overall: the two chapter seats, and the three community seats, and the elections alternate every year. The difference rests in who elects what: the chapter seats are selected, as I said, in a closed process by chapter board members; the community seats are elected in an open process by members of the Wikimedia community (defined as those with a certain number of edits). I feel that the members of all of these five seats have a duty to be responsive to and consider the needs of the community, however. And in that regard what I bring is lots of practice at listening to and trying to understand various parts of the community — rather, our many communities that come together under one umbrella of shared values to form the Wikimedia Community. The only thing I really feel I understand is how complicated the whole enterprise is. I’ve thought a lot about what it might take to get involvement from all segments, and I feel strongly that we must work on making it easier to get involved in Wikimedia shared governance; that despite having set an example for the world about what collaborative, open online work and consensus building can look like we are just beginning to explore what that means.

We are an extraordinary, chaotic community that has produced amazing things, and we all have a stake in them. Greg Maxwell sent a brilliant letter just this morning on Foundation-l; in it he writes among other things that there is a danger in removing (through poorly thought out Foundation activities) “the personal pride and responsibility that people feel for the complete site.” This is absolutely true, and something that I have been thinking about and trying to articulate for many years. I am someone who not only feels this pride personally but who has been observing it in others, trying to figure out how it works, observing the many moving parts that make it possible, and thinking of ways to increase the reach of this pride in Wikimedia: we should all — readers, editors, everyone — feel like Wikimedia is our shared enterprise. The biggest danger in the Foundation’s recent rapid growth, which we need to think very carefully about, is the potential loss of community pride in tasks that are taken over in a closed manner. This is not a trivial danger for a project whose entire existence and motive force is provided by this loose but vibrant community.

I also bring the background of someone who thinks about and tries to understand what it means to do deep research, what it means to distribute and share knowledge, and the historical background of that enterprise. I believe in free knowledge because I’ve seen what it means when knowledge isn’t free; I’m part of a library system that routinely pays six figures for publisher’s journal packages, access to which is then restricted to a tiny portion of the academic community. I have devoted my professional life to helping people gain high-quality information for whatever they need to do; Wikimedia is in the same business, and I think libraries and Wikimedia have a lot to share with each other. I’ve seen the difference that having an easily available good summation of the world’s knowledge makes: among other things, I sit at a reference desk every single working day and watch students use Wikipedia on their computers. We are there for the privileged and the non-privileged, the formal students and the life-long learners, the young and the old, and we have a duty of care to make our stuff as good as we possibly can.

That’s a lot of long-winded explanation to say basically I think I am good and observant listener, who would try really hard to make sure that the Board & Foundation do stay true to their historic roles and mission. I am not a professional strategist or thinker; I’m not a financial wizard or even a technical whiz. I’m a writer and academic and librarian and Wikimedian. I will try to use this catalyst of Board candidacy in the coming weeks to try to articulate some of the ideas and specific actions I think are important within Wikimedia and for the Board; it’s a good excuse to try and clarify my own thinking in a productive way.

Below is the statement I sent in after being nominated. I welcome comments, criticisms, concerns, ideas, ice cream cones, free knowledge, whatever you might want to share with me 🙂

I was flattered to be nominated for the Board of Trustees, but was hesitant to accept: being on the Board is a huge and important responsibility. Trustees have the unenviable role of gently guiding the Foundation into the as-yet undefined future, while still staying true to the values and ideals that inspire individual community members to commit time and energy to the projects. This is a difficult job, and one that is only getting harder as the Foundation’s resources and options expand.

If seated, I would bring to the Board community experience, outreach experience and dedication to community and chapter outreach efforts, knowledge of the library, information science and academic worlds, and ties to the wiki research community. I would also bring a librarian’s perspective on Wikimedia’s place in the larger information universe and how our projects are used, and how we might work with academics and others in Foundation and project improvement.

Of course, no single person can individually represent or even  understand all of the many smaller communities that make up the “Wikimedia Community”: we are too diverse and too complex, with different backgrounds, projects, goals and interests. But a Trustee, particularly a community Trustee, can and should listen in good faith to the concerns and needs of these many communities, encourage feedback and new ideas, work to make it easier for community members to become involved in governance, and communicate Board discussions and actions as clearly and openly as possible. I have spent nearly seven years now utterly fascinated by the projects, and I think this is a particularly important time for Wikimedia: the Foundation is poised on the edge of even more startling growth, while the projects continue to face questions of community and sustainability. I believe the way forward lies in measured and sustainable growth, support of localized community development and outreach, and mutual trust and respect for the project communities.

Finally, in my interactions with the current Board members I have found them all to be thoughtful, dedicated individuals and I would certainly support re-seating the current occupants of the chapter seats. I believe it is important that our Board does reflect our international, diverse communities.

I am a science and engineering reference librarian at the [[University of California, Davis]], which is a large public research university in north-central California (about two hours from San Francisco). My professional interests include engineering and computer science information, reference work and question-answering systems, open access and scholarly publishing issues, undergraduate education, and collaborative software use and communities.

My current job involves working with faculty, students and researchers to help them with their information-finding and research projects; teaching information literacy and research skills; buying book, journal, and database packages (including analyzing their licensing agreements) and familiarizing myself with available information resources; and local and national conference and event planning, committee work, and web development.

My résumé, which lists some of the Wikipedia talks I have given, is here:

My workplace is both aware of and supportive of my Wikimedia involvement, and in turn I have tried to convince them that this is one of the most important things a librarian should be doing 🙂

Within Wikimedia, I have:
* spoken at or helped organize all 6 Wikimanias (2005-2010)
* served on & moderated the Wikimania bid jury (2006-2010)
* served on the Special Projects Committee (2006-2007)
* given talks to academic and public audiences, including teaching classes on Wikipedia, and done library & museum outreach
* authored the book “How Wikipedia Works” (with Charles Matthews & Ben Yates); this is the 2nd book to be published in English about Wikipedia and one of only a handful of how-to guides about the site
* led the development of the San Francisco-area meetup group, which now meets regularly, has a mailing list (~130 subscribers), and plans special events (since 2007)
* written for the weekly Wikipedia Signpost (regularly writing “News & Notes” since Jan. 2009)
* contributed to the English Wikipedia as an article author and fact-checker

I have internal-l and OTRS access (though I have not answered OTRS tickets for a long time). In addition to en:wp, I have edited Meta a fair amount, and have a handful of edits on other projects. While my first edits were in 2003, I did not become involved in Foundation-level work until late 2005, when I joined the Wikimania team.

I have also been involved in other parts of the wiki community, through organization of WikiSym and Recent Changes Camp.Much to my dismay, I am only fluent in English. Though I know I can be longwinded, I try to write messages carefully and concisely when writing for a broad audience. I am well-traveled, and have had the pleasure of attending Wikipedia meetups in a dozen cities on five continents — so far! I am happy to answer any questions.

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8 Responses to board(ing)

  1. BradPatrick says:

    Phoebe, you would make a marvelous addition. I hope your work and devotion is recognized and you are able to take your seat at the table.


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  3. phoebe says:

    thanks Brad.

    James, I don’t believe the community here is ready for a chapter, or that it would help us particularly at this point (I don’t see a strong connection between the ideas listed on the talk page and what a chapter could do). That’s why my name is not on the roster. I’ll be interested to see how things develop though!

  4. Phoebe, I’m grateful for your reply, and hope you can please be specific about what in particular would be necessary for the California community to be ready for a chapter, and what isn’t strongly connected enough in the response to your question.

  5. valerie murphy greene says:

    hello – i am perplexed that Wikipedia would have no biographical info on a very important
    personage in U.S. history = Charlotte Iserbyt. Ever heard of her?

    i hate to think there might be a political bias/censorship issue here, but i cannot reach any other

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